Battle for Britain’s Tory leadership: TV debate canceled as Mordaunt comes under fire from her boss

Penny Mordaunt missed ministerial meetings because she was planning her bid for the Tory leadership, her head of department claimed, as senior Conservatives expressed concerns over the increasingly bitter race to replace Boris Johnson.

The trade secretary’s absence from the meetings forced colleagues to pick up the pieces, international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan claimed in a scathing attack on the hopeful leadership.

The Cabinet Secretary backs Tom Tugendhat for Conservative Party leadership but he risks being sidelined in the next round of elections later on Monday.

In a sign of concern over the way the race for leadership is being conducted, the campaign’s lead candidate Rishi Sunak and Secretary of State Liz Truss confirmed they did not want to take part in a Sky News debate scheduled for Tuesday – which the caused broadcasters to cancel the show.

“Conservative MPs should be concerned about the damage the debates are doing to the image of the Conservative Party by revealing disagreements and divisions within the party,” Sky said in a statement.

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was “amazed” at candidates withdrawing from the debate, arguing that it showed a lack of “confidence”.

He told reporters from a central London bank: “From what I’ve seen in the debates so far I can see why they want to do this, because this is a party that has no ideas, no intentions, they. They tear each other apart.”

The contenders for the leadership – Mr Sunak, Ms Truss, Ms Mordaunt, Mr Tugendhat and Kemi Badenoch – have already taken part in debates on Channel 4 and ITV, with the would-be prime ministers attacking each other in prime time.

Ms Mordaunt’s record in office was further attacked by Ms Trevelyan on LBC radio on Monday morning.

Asked about Ms Mordaunt’s understanding of details, Ms Trevelyan said: “We all do our jobs in different ways.

“Perhaps it is understandable that Penny has spent some of her time over the past few months preparing her leadership campaign, for which I have the utmost respect, that’s how this system works.”

Ms Trevelyan added: “There have been a few times she has not been available which would have been useful and other ministers have picked up on the pieces.”

But former Minister Harriet Baldwin, an ally of Ms Mordaunt, said: “Having worked with Penny Mordaunt for a number of years, I can confirm that this is not true.

“She is one of the hardest working ministers and constituency MPs I know. I look forward to Penny continuing to share her positive vision for Britain.”

Contenders for the Tory leadership will be reduced to just four when MPs cast their ballots in the third round of the contest to find a successor to Mr Johnson.

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Conservative leadership election: second ballot. See story POLITICS Tories. Infographic PA graphics. An editable version of this graphic is available if required. Please contact graphics@pamediagroup.com.

Mr Tugendhat had fewer votes than his remaining rivals in Thursday’s last vote and he appears to be most at risk this time.

Ms Trevelyan said she hoped he would get another chance to run for leadership if he failed in that attempt.

“He has this extraordinary ability to bring people together who wouldn’t otherwise work together,” she said.

“I think it’s a real gift and I wanted the rest of the world to see a lot more of it.

“If this is not his time, I hope there will be a future time when he can lead the party.”

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MANDATORY CREDIT REQUIRED: Jonathan Hordle/ITV ITV issued handout photo of Penny Mordaunt attending Britain’s Next Prime Minister: The ITV Debate, a head-to-head debate between candidates from the Conservative party leadership. Picture date: Sunday July 17, 2022.

Cabinet Secretary Kit Malthouse said he expected the Tories to come together in a “spirit of harmony and love” after the leadership struggle.

“All political parties are permanent coalitions and the Conservative Party is the same,” he told Sky News.

“At a challenging time for the country, a lively exchange of views should be expected as you discuss such important issues and the leadership of a G7 nation.

“If it was just a polite agreement and consensus across the board, there wouldn’t be much point in even having a competition.”

Mr Malthouse has not publicly declared his support for any of the candidates to succeed Mr Johnson.

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MANDATORY CREDIT REQUIRED: Jonathan Hordle/ITV Handout photo issued by ITV of Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss, Tom Tugendhat and Penny Mordaunt attending Britain’s Next Prime Minister: The ITV Debate, a head-to-head debate between candidates the conservative party leadership. Picture date: Sunday July 17, 2022.

A series of votes among Tory MPs this week will narrow the field down to the final two, who will then face a summer of campaigning in support of party members in a final vote.

The new leader will be announced on September 5 and is expected to become prime minister the following day.

Mr Sunak said if he was successful he would make his first trip abroad to Kyiv to emphasize Britain’s continued support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian invasion.

He told The Sun: “I will step up our policy of total support for Ukraine, which Boris has managed so skillfully.”

But Ms Mordaunt said her campaign had the support of 10 Ukrainian MPs.

Meanwhile, Ms Truss echoed an analysis by the Center for Economics and Business Research which suggested tax receipts in 2024/25 will be around £60bn higher than Office for Budget Responsibility estimates, partly due to the impact of the high inflation is due.

A spokeswoman for Ms Truss said: “The CEBR analysis shows there is money for tax cuts while reducing debt.”

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